The rules are the rules and paddlers will have to abide by them.
That's not to say they'll all like those rules.
"Wearing a PFD (personal flotation device) during a race is very uncomfortable," Paul Gruber of Allegheny River Competitive Paddlers said. "They cause us to quickly overheat, dehydrate, and we get real bad skin burns from them rubbing on us even with a shirt on in between."
At 70 to 80 strokes per minute for an hour and half to two hours, that's a lot of friction and heat retention.
Gruber said it's a big deal.
"It sure is," he said. "Wearing a PFD will multiply their body heat tenfold."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' rule mandating PFDs only applies to the stretch of river from the boat launch where the races have traditionally started to the start of the first island downstream.
Paddlers could remove their PFDs after that.
"Most (probably all) will take them off as soon as they are allowed, just as they make it to the first island, it is only a few hundred yards," Gruber said. "Removing a PFD in the midst of a race is going to be difficult and take precious time away from moving the boat forward. They are made to stay on a person, not come off quickly. Tipping is a real possibility."
"There is no rule stating a PFD must be worn at the Flame Rapids. This is where many canoes and kayaks capsize behind the refinery," Gruber said. "The very short section at the beginning of the race where we are required to wear the PFD in is not a dangerous area. It is just silly being forced to wear a PFD in a calm area."
People taking life jackets off in narrow-hulled watercraft could add danger there, he said.
Asked if she thought racers would take off PFDs as soon as they were allowed, U.S. Canoe and Kayak Association (USCA) and Pennsylvania Association of Canoe and Kayak (PACK) President Susan Williams said, "There's a contingent that would, (but) some of our boats are too tippy to do it."
Because paddlers are required to have a PFD with them throughout the race, they can't just take it off and throw it away - unless they have another already in the craft. "Finding a secure place to stow the PFD in a kayak while paddling down the river offers another problem," Gruber said.
There are PFDs that are less intrusive than the familiar vests.
"You wear them around your waist and they don't interfere with anything," Williams said.
"Some people have inflatable PFDs," Gruber said. "They are thin and inflate with a CO2 cartridge with the pull of a string or an automatic device. These are a bit less cumbersome and not as hot to wear, but will still rub the skin raw while racing. Not many paddlers own them because they are not always a safe bet."
If the rule was based on conditions at race time, Gruber said it would not be a problem. "When conditions warrant it, smart paddlers wear a regular PFD with little or no complaint."
According to Gruber, in the near term, the impact on the number of racers this year should be minimal, but in the grand scheme, if the rule is unpopular enough with the racers, Warren's chances for future races could be diminished.
"Most racers will come anyway, but they will not be happy about this and it certainly will affect our city's chances to obtain any future USCA Nationals bid," Gruber said.